Experts have been pointing out for years that the North African region is a “hotspot”, and that the risks associated with temperatures already above the global average, would be higher (1.5 degrees by 2035, with the possibility, without a radical policy change, of reaching 2.2 degrees in 2050).
Rainfall is expected to decrease and temperature to rise, which will have a direct impact on water resource capacities. Climate models show that these trends will strengthen over the future years.
As the agricultural sector is the main consumer of this resource, agricultural production – and therefore the supply to consumers – will be directly affected.
Agricultural lands are largely located in the arid and semi-arid area, representing 85% of the total land area (excluding the Sahara), and will now be increasingly subject to frequent droughts and climatic accidents.
This diagnosis, widely shared by the National Climate Plan (PNC) adopted by the authorities in 2018, has not been followed up, and the climate change adaptation measures adopted by the PNC are far from being implemented.
A major challenge, therefore, arises in a country where the orientation given to policies is aimed at a further intensification of the modes of exploitation of natural resources: how in these conditions to increase agricultural production while preserving natural resources strongly threatened in the future by ongoing climate change?
Secondly, there is the economic shock caused by the rise in world prices for basic agricultural products, which are very heavily consumed by the population (cereals, milk, edible oils, and sugar).
The market crisis and the rises in commodity prices in the spring of 2020 were accentuated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began on 24 February 2022.
Soft wheat prices, which hovered around $200 per tonne in the years 2011-2012, reached amounts that are around $290 per tonne in the last quarter of 2021.
The health crisis was a trigger for this market crisis and this with, on the one hand, the consequence and the weight exerted by imports from China – which became the world’s leading importer of agricultural and agri-food products during 2020/2021 season – and on the other hand, the rise in transport prices combined with temporary export restrictions implemented in several exporting countries (Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Argentina, India…).
Since the beginning of the war, soft wheat has increased by 50% to $450 per tonne. World prices for vegetable oils increased by 23%, sugar by 7%, and meat by 5%.
Algeria will thus buy at the end of February 2022, 600,000 tons of milling wheat, of French origin at $ 485 per ton (cost and fees) to load March-April 2022.
Egypt, the world’s largest importer of soft wheat, will acquire 240,000 tons of French soft wheat for loading at the end of May, at $492.25 per tonne.
The featured image is of Workers harvesting wheat in a field on the outskirts of Berouaguia, southwest of Algiers. (Reuters)
Reporting on one particular water scarcity that is sweeping the Middle East, Kuwait News found that the situation is not only due to climate change, but to overuse that kill off Iraq Sawa Lake thus human mismanagement of the vital resource would be looked at.
Climate change, overuse kill off Iraq Sawa Lake
The above-featured image is SAMAWAH: An aerial view that shows a pond remaining at the dried-up Sawa Lake in Iraq’s southern province of Al-Muthanna.- AFP
SAWA LAKE: A “No Fishing” sign on the edge of Iraq’s western desert is one of the few clues that this was once Sawa Lake, a biodiverse wetland and recreational landmark. Human activity and climate change have combined to turn the site into a barren wasteland with piles of salt. Abandoned hotels and tourist facilities here hark back to the 1990s when the salt lake, circled by sandy banks, was in its heyday and popular with newly-weds and families who came to swim and picnic.
But today, the lake near the city of Samawa, south of the capital Baghdad, is completely dry. Bottles litter its former banks and plastic bags dangle from sun-scorched shrubs, while two pontoons have been reduced to rust. “This year, for the first time, the lake has disappeared,” environmental activist Husam Subhi said. “In previous years, the water area had decreased during the dry seasons.”
Today, on the sandy ground sprinkled with salt, only a pond remains where tiny fish swim, in a source that connects the lake to an underground water table. The five-square-kilometer lake has been drying up since 2014, says Youssef Jabbar, environmental department head of Muthana province. The causes have been “climate change and rising temperatures,” he explained. “Muthana is a desert province, it suffers from drought and lack of rainfall.”
1,000 illegal wells
A government statement issued last week also pointed to “more than 1,000 wells illegally dug” for agriculture in the area. Additionally, nearby cement and salt factories have “drained significant amounts of water from the groundwater that feeds the lake”, Jabbar said. It would take nothing short of a miracle to bring Sawa Lake back to life.
Use of aquifers would have to be curbed and, following three years of drought, the area would now need several seasons of abundant rainfall, in a country hit by desertification and regarded as one of the five most vulnerable to climate change. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, a global treaty, recognized Sawa as “unique… because it is a closed water body in an area of sabkha (salt flat) with no inlet or outlet.
“The lake is formed over limestone rock and is isolated by gypsum barriers surrounding the lake; its water chemistry is unique,” says the convention’s website. A stopover for migratory birds, the lake was once “home to several globally vulnerable species” such as the eastern imperial eagle, houbara bustard and marbled duck.
‘Lake died before me’
Sawa is not the only body of water in Iraq facing the perils of drought. Iraqi social media is often filled with photos of grotesquely cracked soil, such as in the UNESCO-listed Howeiza marshes in the south, or Razzaza Lake in the central province of Karbala. In Sawa, a sharp drop in rainfall – now only 30 percent of what used to be normal for the region – has lowered the underground water table, itself drained by wells, said Aoun Dhiab, a senior advisor at Iraq’s water resources ministry.
And rising temperatures have increased evaporation. Dhiab said authorities have banned the digging of new wells and are working to close illegally-dug wells across the country. Latif Dibes, who divides his time between his hometown of Samawa and his adopted country of Sweden, has worked for the past decade to raise environmental awareness.
The former driving school instructor cleans up the banks of the Euphrates River and has turned the vast, lush garden of his home into a public park. He remembers the school trips and holidays of his childhood, when the family would go swimming at Sawa. “If the authorities had taken an interest, the lake would not have disappeared at this rate. It’s unbelievable,” he said. “I am 60 years old and I grew up with the lake. I thought I would disappear before it, but unfortunately, it has died before me.”
Orestes Morfín in MEI@75 of 20 April 2022, tells us how the MENA region’s climate regime influences its water resources. Let us have a look.
The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region faces unique challenges to environmental sustainability and human habitation. First and foremost among these is the limited availability of freshwater. As a broad swath of arid to dry-subhumid mountainous desert, the region sees most of its precipitation fall as mountain snow. Surface water is relatively scarce and the major rivers are fed by snowmelt runoff in source areas far from major points of use. The headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in mountainous eastern Turkey and the headwaters of the Blue Nile in the Ethiopian Highlands are prime examples. Sustained availability of water to these river systems is therefore dependent on the predictable transformation of mountain snowpack into runoff.
The relative hydrologic “health” of a system is often thought of in terms of the absolute amount of precipitation falling on the watershed. While the quantity of precipitation is important, precipitation alone does not guarantee runoff. The capacity of any basin to efficiently translate precipitation into runoff is dependent on a complex, sensitive interplay of forces that must align if it is to be predictable — and predictability is the foundation of sound planning.
Water stores energy more efficiently than air. The oceans, therefore, are a significant reservoir of heat produced by human activity. Not surprisingly, temperature anomalies in the ocean have skewed overwhelmingly higher since the 1990s. This is important because warming oceans have the potential to contribute more moisture to the atmosphere through increased evaporation. A warming air mass, however, buffers this effect with an increased capacity to retain moisture, meaning that more moisture is needed to reach saturation. This impacts both the amount and the timing of precipitation. In other words, when coupled with a warming ocean, a warmer atmosphere may take longer to reach saturation, but will deliver more precipitation when it does.
Studies suggest that wet regions will get wetter and arid regions will have even less precipitation. For regions already feeling the effects of increased average temperatures and aridification — such as the MENA region — longer, hotter summers and delayed onset of autumn cooling and precipitation may mean both a delay in snowpack formation and a diminished snowpack. This may be the result not only of insufficient moisture in the atmosphere needed to reach saturation, but may also be due to more winter precipitation falling in the form of rain rather than snow. The potential coupling of warmer oceans and a warmer atmosphere has significant and possibly dire implications for the expected lifespan of surface waters in MENA.
Some regions have more naturally favorable conditions than others for generating runoff. Areas with cooler, wetter fall weather at elevation have soils at (or close to) saturation prior to the snow accumulation season. This is important because the state of the “soil moisture budget” is often an influential factor in how much runoff is generated during melt. In this context, soil that is closer to saturation will have a reduced capacity to retain additional water. Thus, snow accumulating on saturated soil will be more likely to generate runoff with the onset of spring melt.
By contrast, a warmer atmosphere with longer, hotter summers will have a drier prelude to snow accumulation season. Warmer air wicks moisture from the soil surface and increases evaporative stress on regional vegetation, resulting in a soil moisture “deficit” in this crucial period. Since a greater percentage of meltwater first must be absorbed into the soil, less runoff will be generated.
Dust on snow
The sun also plays a significant role in this process. Snowpack development is sensitive to the daily inbound/outbound fluctuation of solar radiation in the atmosphere. Snow reflects most incoming solar radiation. Snow that has accumulated on saturated soil after a wet autumn reflects most efficiently. Snow that has accumulated after a long, hot summer and dry autumn, however, may continue to accumulate dust on the surface of the snowpack, which absorbs solar radiation, increases the temperature at the snowpack surface, and tends to result in a premature melt.
MENA governments have poured money into developing large-scale hydropower and water projects. Perhaps the most notable of these are Turkey’s Southeastern Anatolia Project (GAP), a series of 22 dams, 19 hydroelectric facilities, and agricultural diversions in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates, and more recently the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Both mega-projects were designed to stimulate economic growth and ensure greater independence. The benefits of these projects may be overestimated, however, if both the quantity and quality of runoff proves increasingly disappointing.
Seasonal precipitation totals are important, but even the wettest of years will have reduced runoff if the timing of delivery is off, the autumn was warm and dry, and an already meager snowpack melts earlier than expected. In such years, a greater soil moisture deficit must be overcome before the watershed can generate any runoff in spring.
Reduced streamflow can also have adverse impacts on water quality. Reduced runoff means less fresh water available to dilute naturally-occurring salts eroded from upstream areas, resulting in higher salinity in both surface waters and agricultural soils. Hotter, drier conditions over a greater percentage of the year mean less irrigation water available to flush salts that accumulate from the soil. Increased soil and surface water salinity constitutes an existential threat to agriculture as well as an economic liability (in terms of damage to piping, drains, and other infrastructure).
These impacts can be mitigated with careful planning that takes this delicate balance of factors into account, such as coordinated facility management to minimize adverse impacts to all users or funding agreements designed to address the damage caused by excess salinity. Greater cross-border collaboration among MENA countries is essential if stakeholders hope to maximize the delivery potential of the water resources projects in which they have already invested so heavily.
Orestes Morfín is a senior planning analyst with the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and a non-resident scholar with MEI’s Climate and Water Program. The views expressed in this piece are his own.
Groundwater Nourishing Life by Dr Irfan Peerzada and published by Greater Kashmir applies to all areas of the planet, particularly to those regions that are at the forefront of the sweeping global warming.
It should be noted that this threat has been taking on an alarming dimension for several years. Risks and vulnerability analyses of the Climate Change effects on the MENA region were carried out on behalf of certain authorities in charge of the environment. Most came up with findings on the fragile sectors of agriculture and water resources and established maps from local and international data such as the “drought severity” map based on the World Resources Institute.
These analyses of risks and vulnerability to climate change developed by these experts for several years also indicated that climate change will cause the MENA region generally a rise in temperatures, a decrease in total rainfall but also a greater instability of the distribution of precipitation during the year. It will lead to a degradation of the vegetation cover and soils resulting in greater erosion and acceleration of desertification.
In the above-featured image “Groundwater is also critically important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers. “Flickr [Creative Commons]
Reliance on groundwater for food production continues to increase globally
Groundwater is invisible, but its impact is visible everywhere. Out of sight, under our feet, groundwater is a hidden treasure that supports our lives.
Almost all the liquid fresh water in the world is groundwater. Life would not be possible without groundwater. Most arid areas of the world depend entirely on this resource.
Groundwater supplies a large proportion of the water we use for food production and industrial processes. Groundwater is also critically important to the healthy functioning of ecosystems, such as wetlands and rivers.
Groundwater: The invisible ingredient in food
Population growth, rapid urbanisation, and economic development are just some of the factors driving increased demand for water, energy and food. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources. Feeding a global population expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050 will require a 50 per cent increase in food production.
Today, approximately 70% of global groundwater withdrawals are used in the agricultural sector, for the production of food, livestock and industrial crops. Reliance on groundwater for food production continues to increase globally, resulting in more use for irrigated agriculture, livestock and related industrial processes.
Indeed, about 30 per cent of all the water used for irrigation is groundwater, with regions heavily reliant on groundwater for irrigation such as North America and South Asia.
Groundwater has already lifted millions of people out of poverty and significantly improved food security, especially in India and East Asia, since technologies for drilling and energy sources for pumping were made widely available for rural farmers in the latter half of the 20th century.
Groundwater: a finite resource
Groundwater is being over-used in many areas of the world, where more water is abstracted from aquifers than is naturally recharged by rain and snow.
Continuous groundwater over-use can lead to depletion of this resource, compromising significant groundwater-dependent ecosystems and threatening to undermine basic water supply, agricultural production, climate resilience and food security.
Avoiding the problems of groundwater depletion requires increased management and governance capacity at multiple integrated levels and in inter-sectoral approaches. Reducing food waste can also play an important role in lowering water consumption.
Groundwater is polluted in many areas and remediation is often a long and difficult process. This increases the costs of processing groundwater, and sometimes even prevents its use.
The use of chemical and organic fertilizers in agriculture is a serious threat to groundwater quality. For example, nitrate is the most common contaminant of groundwater resources worldwide. Other diffuse contaminants of concern to groundwater from irrigated agriculture include pesticides and antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.
Laws and regulations need to be enforced at all levels to prevent or limit diffuse groundwater pollution from agriculture, to preserve ecosystems and human health.
What can we do about groundwater?
Groundwater has always been critically important but not fully recognized. We must protect groundwater from pollution and use it sustainably, balancing the needs of people and the planet. Groundwaters’ vital role in agriculture, industry, ecosystems and climate change adaptation must be reflected in sustainable development policymaking.
In some areas of the world, we do not even know how much groundwater lies beneath our feet, which means we could be failing to harness a potentially vital water resource.
Sustainable groundwater use requires continuous monitoring of water consumption, particularly in irrigation systems serviced from non-renewable aquifers.
Satellite technologies offer cost-effective opportunities for estimating groundwater consumption and abstraction levels by measuring actual evapotranspiration in near-real time, over large areas.
Dr Irfan Peerzada, Department of Agriculture, District Bandipora
MENA countries should cooperate to overcome water crisis, expert says in a Jerusalem Post published 23 March 2022, article.
The Middle East and North Africa region is one of the most water-stressed in the world. According to statements issued by local authorities at the MENA Desalination Projects Forum 2022, held last week in Abu Dhabi ahead of World Water Day on Tuesday, 14 of the 20 countries in the world with the highest amount of water scarcity, are located in the MENA region.
Aiman Eid Al-Rawajfeh, a professor of Chemical Engineering and Desalination at Tafila Technical University in Jordan, and a Jordan Engineering Association-certified consultant on seawater desalination and environment told The Media Line that the current demand of water in the region is greater than the drinkable water available. “There is great shortage between supply and need in the MENA region, and Jordan is one of the poorest countries in water resources and supply,” he said.
Al-Rawajfeh explained that this is due to the lack of natural potable water sources and – mostly – due to the rapid population growth in the area, which includes, in Jordan’s case, many refugees migrating to the country, exponentially increasing the water demand.
Jordan Valley field effected by drought (credit: REUTERS)
He said that – together with wastewater treatment, reuse and water harvesting – desalination of seawater is a favorable choice as an alternative non-traditional water source, which can partially help solve the problem. However, the high cost of desalination may not be affordable for some countries in the region, he added.
For that reason, Al-Rawajfeh suggests that there should be a greater cooperation among the MENA countries to help one other to improve their desalinization plants, in order to make them more efficient and able to become a more significant solution.
Jordan, for instance, has only one desalinization plant, located in Aqaba, which Al- Rawajfeh describes as “very small.”
He says that almost none of the water used in Jordan comes from the desalinization plant. Most of the water comes from ground water pumped from the Disi aquifer, or from Jordan’s share of the water from the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers. In addition, some water is treated and used.
This has become an insufficient source for the country due to a population that continues to grow, according to Al-Rawajfeh. That is why he suggests that the Gulf countries, which have greater financial resources, and experience in desalinization, should invest in such projects in other MENA countries including Jordan in a show of regional cooperation. “Suitable funding should be supplied to the researchers, and innovations for more R&D and commercialization of some great ideas to solve the problem” he said. In addition to the high cost of desalinization of water, Al-Rawajfeh explained that, if the process is not done properly, it could also cause environmental damage. “The residue left after the process, meaning the high concentration of brine, is an issue,” he said. “But suitable treatment should be practiced to protect the environment,” he added. Israel is one of the leading countries in the region in finding alternative solutions to similar water scarcity problems. One of the most innovative solutions is provided by the Israeli company Watergen, a global leader in Atmospheric Water Generation (AWG) technology. Watergen’s technology provides a completely new and seemingly unlimited water resource – the air. Michael Rutman, Watergen co-CEO, and Jenny Goldman, marketing manager of Emerging Markets for Watergen, told The Media Line that the Watergen technology represents a significant effort to find a solution to what Goldman called “probably the most pressing crisis of the 21st century – the water crisis.”
“Watergen’s technology extracts water from the air by enabling the air to move fast into the patented Genius system in a significantly short time, ensuring greater efficiency and thus using less energy,” Goldman explained.
The machine includes an “energy-efficient heat exchange module, using condensation as a means of producing fresh water. One liter of water costs 7-15 cents, which depends on local electricity costs,” she said.
Watergen offers a variety of water supply solutions, with machines that can generate from 12 liters to 6,000 liters per day. “The technology can be implemented at home or office; in commercial and industrial scales; and can even be generated on-the-go, totally off-grid. Currently, Watergen provides an essential water supply to corporate offices, restaurants, hotels, hospitals and distilleries,” she said.
Goldman explained that Watergen operates on five different continents, providing water to companies and governments in multiple countries around the globe. Watergen has five production lines worldwide, and is setting up more, to meet the demand.
The vision of Dr. Mikhael Mirilashvili, the president of Watergen, is to provide clean and safe drinking water to every corner of the globe, according to Goldman. With its pathbreaking technology, Goldman said, “Watergen is working with governments, NGOs, and multinational corporations around the world in order to realize its mission: to solve the severe drinking water crisis that plagues almost every country.”
The top featured image is for illustration; credit to Reuters.
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